Why Cosmic Praise?

“Faster! Pedal faster!”, I yelled at the stranger above me, as she madly peddled her bike and I dragged the ropes attached to her bike across the dust-swept playa surface. “If you pedal faster,  you’ll go faster!”. Ofcourse, that was patently false. The bike was suspended mid-air and her speed depended on how fast I and my fellow acolytes pulled the ropes, sweeping the bike through the sky. The whole contraption looked like a windmill on its side, with the bike dangling off the end of the would-be sail. And we dragged the sail round and round, the bike swooshing overhead. “Fly a bike” they called it. And I ran the contraption for five hours straight that day under the playa sun. Hundreds must have ridden it. One by one, eagerly clambering onto the bike, faces grinning in anticipation of what was to come. We dragged the counterweight down, and up the bike went! Soaring into the azure blue sky, silhouetted against the sun. “Pedal faster!” we yelled as the bike went round and round.

There was a certain satisfaction in that labor. In happiness delivered. Instant happiness. On the faces of strangers you saw for a fleeting moment and nevermore. As they were swooshed up onto the bike for their minute of playa perspective delivered. They got off, giddy and willing to pull the ropes and get the next person up. And the next. And the next. We flew that bike for hours. And that was how I met Doug and Doug’s art.

I learnt that there is something visceral about participative art. About art that draws the spectator in. That delivers an experience unlikely to be forgotten. As we hauled burners onto that bike over and over again, they experienced the joy of strangers exchanging happiness. It is part of what made me sign on to “Cosmic Praise”,  Doug’s art project for this year.

The value of art lies in the instant connection it forges with the viewer. Art has the power of communicating an idea instantly, clearly, and viscerally. And, what begs to be communicated today? What is beautiful yet complex, elegant yet obscure? Science! Science illuminates the structure of our world. The complex, differentiated structure. The whorls of a flower, the phases of the moon, or the motion of the tides. There is science behind them. And art can lend its voice to that science. Bring it to life. This is what “Cosmic Praise” does.

Think of the playa. A few square miles of salt plain. Zoom out. North America, a continent. Zoom out further. The Earth, the planets and the Sun. Just another star in a nondescript part of the Milky Way, which is just another spiral galaxy in a the Local Group of galaxies, itself part of the Virgo supercluster of galaxies. If you think about it, it’s funny, even absurd, that we live our quotidian lives seldom thinking of the magnificent cosmic dance that encompasses us. The universe abounds with all manner  of strange and exotic objects, from neutron stars to gas giants. If only their presence could be made real. Visceral. Visible to the naked eye.

We’re already there. Almost. Every day you, me, and everyone else is bombarded by the fingerprints of cosmic happenings. They’re called “cosmic rays”. Think the regurgitated byproducts of cosmic happenings and you have cosmic rays. Supernovae give off cosmic rays. Black holes give off cosmic rays. That cosmic ray that just passed you by? For all you know, it could’ve come from a supernova in Andromeda, a galaxy 2.5 million light years away. It’s been travelling for 2.5 million years to get to you. From a time before humans existed.  Too bad your eyes could never see the passage of a cosmic ray. If only you could, and then partake in the cosmic wonder of our universe.

And this is what “Cosmic Praise” is all about. A cosmic ray detector atop a 50 foot high tower. You, curious, intrepid  traveller to Black Rock City, mount the steps to this atrium perched atop the tower. You enter, and you see flashes of light. Each flash of light announces the  passage of a cosmic ray. And as you gaze at each flash, you feel the universe speaking to you. You look up at the inky-black night sky and think of all the supernovae, the black holes, the neutron stars, the quasars, the Suns and Earths of the universe that must be out there. You feel them. And suddenly, that feeling of transcendence rushes up at you. You’re part of something much larger. Much grander. The story of the cosmos. Cosmic Praise.

-Karan Gill

Progress Update 5/13/14

OK folks, here is an update for all of you who have been inquiring as to the status of the Cosmic Praise project. First off, thanks for you interest and patience, having the project located in the 6-o’clock keyhole has presented some challenges that have needed to be addressed and this has taken some time.

The biggest thing is that the smallest inner diameter of the tower, which was sufficient for one ladder up, is insufficient for 2 ladders up. We feel that the more highly-trafficed location, will come with more people attempting to climb up and down the tower. To make this easier, we have decided to put 2 ladders in, one for climbing up and the other for climbing down. This necessitated making the narrowest portion of the tower wider and led to a complete structural re-design, which has taken some time, but is now complete. We are generating the tower BOM and cut list even as I type this.  Thanks for the able CADding goes to Nick L. We have bought enough steel to prototype parts and determine fabrication methods and have cut some parts out on the CNC plasma cutter, thanks here go to Dewb.

High-Voltage electronics are pretty much designed, both the tube-based circuits and the solid-state analog backups. Most components have been sourced/purchased and a space has been cleared for to begin wiring up and testing at Artisan’s Asylum. The scintillator type and photomultipliers with matching photo-cathode spectral response have been selected and bought as well. We are gearing up to test the spark chamber as a simple 2-3 plate affair in a small bell jar in an Argon atmosphere. This has been mostly accomplished by Dan S, Bob R, Drew V, Olin S & Carl G. We also are engaging the advice of a new partner, a man who has been designing and building high-voltage and plasma discharge art for more than 30 years.

Lower tower wrap/Deco. We have tested samples of fabric for wrapping the lower half of the tower and the materials chosen will work for us. Liz M has been sketching up designs for the patterns and now that we have the new tower dimensions available, the cutting, sewing and painting will be started soon.

The first, formal all-hands lighting team meeting has happened. There has been a lot of behind the scenes work and a lot of the components/strategy has been nailed down. Basic lighting components, scheme and procedures are in place and are being developed on a test bed. Thanks Dewb.

Web development/social media work has been taken on by Emil and Riv and Sharon and they are putting the final touches on our WordPress website which should be coming on line this week. A LOT of thought and effort have gone into this and it should prove useful to anyone interested in the project. Check it out at http://www.cosmicpraise.com. Add some testimonials, or let us know what you would like to see.

Threadable was chosen as our mailing list source and so far it seems to be working fine. Although there were a few bumps at the start. We have 10 different groups at the moment and more will come on line as the project progresses. We are in the midst of getting our GrabCAD account setup and all of our CAD files put up there for easy access by the team.

Our fundraising efforts will center around a Kickstarter campaign spearheaded by Madelaine R. with video support from Ronny P. All of this is being finished up with an expected launch set for next week. Our crack graphics team has been busy coming up with interesting and beautiful designs that we intend to use for ‘branding’ or making the project recognizable. We are putting the finishing touches on some pretty cool rewards for folks who contribute to the project. We will have the usual, stickers, pint glasses, t-shirts, and some cool medallions all with designs made up by Riv, ehawk & Andrea H. In addition, there will be some larger things such as a table that is a version of the tower base and some lighting based on parts of the wooden tower top, as well as some surprises.

The wooden tower top/viewing platform has been expanded a bit in size to make it easier to climb up into and move around once up there. We have simplified the framing and will begin butchering wood in two weeks.

I look forward to sending you some more exciting updates in the coming weeks, along with opportunities for you all to help out. Things are starting to flow, just like the spice!

Cheers & Anticipation,


Vicarious Very Large Art

You’ll never run out of considerations when you set out to construct a multi-story tower-mounted particle physics imager in a desert three thousand miles away. While it doesn’t involve slag burns or vacuum tubes, sharing stories from the creation process helps people form a palpable connection with the work. We want to give people a taste of the madness involved in what will amount to the terrestrial equivalent of launching a satellite into space.

If you know Doug and live in the Boston area, there’s a good chance you could be conscripted into a half-day of drilling, grinding, de-burring, or any number of things that will give you hands-on memories of bringing Cosmic Praise to life.  I still have a scar from working on a certain rapid egress slide, and now I know how to properly use a de-burring tool. Barring mutilation, how can we best share the enormity of effort taking place? How can we show the journey from notebook to playa with the impact the task deserves? No really, how?

We’ve got a few renderings up of the tower for shape and scale, an engineering notebook full of secrets to redact, and stories from the front lines. The hum of potential energy is fierce and bites back. Raw material orders are coming in and novel fabrication techniques are being tested. There are multiple work tracks, some operating like semi-autonomous splinter cells so that structural work, illumination programming, facade deco, oh and yeah that whole spark chamber thing, can all come together for final fitting before being packed piece by piece into a truck so Doug, and faithful early crew, can drive it to a desert three thousand miles away.


I’m pretty excited.